what is sicilian mafia

Written by Hafsa Ammar 8:09 pm Articles, Current Affairs, Published Content

The Sicilian Mafia

Organized crime refers to a structured criminal enterprise whose primary focus is on generating profit, be it capital or other material profit. Their criminal activity revolves around illicit activities, such as the provision of illegal substances, and in some cases, even human trafficking. There are many major groups within organized crime functioning all over the world, but the most fear-inducing is the Sicilian Mafia.
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Hafsa Ammar is a student of the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at the National Defence University, Islamabad. Her areas of expertise are hybrid warfare, narrative building, and nuclear deterrence in South Asia.

Organized Crime

The UN puts out a precise definition for organized crime that declares it to be at least a group of three or more members which has existed for a period of time, giving it a sense of authenticity. The actions of the group are done for the final aim of committing a crime and profiting from it somehow.

There are several types of activities that fall under the greater umbrella of organized crime. These include but aren’t limited to the following:

  • Money Laundering
  • Bribery
  • Fraud
  • Extortion
  • Toxic-waste trafficking
  • Counterfeiting
  • Corruption
  • Sex Peddling
  • Cyber-based Crime

Many actors of society participate in the machinery of organized crime due to its spread-out and pervasive nature. These actors include members of the government, corrupt politicians, law enforcement individuals, and civil society leaders.

Organized crime also has close ties with white-collar crime. The latter is usually carried out by individuals but can also be done through various organized groups for a massive monetary benefit.

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Significance of Crime in the Contemporary Realm

Although compared to terrorism, the concept of domestic crime does not seem to hold much weight, both are interlinked at a certain level. Organized crime aids terrorism through illicit profits, especially when it transforms into a transnational entity.

Famous organized crime groups include ‘The Triads of China, The Medellin Cartel, The infamous Japanese Yakuza, the motorcycle gang known as Hells Angels, and the Sicilian Mafia. Italy has been plagued with the curse of mafioso since the 19th century when Dr.Galati of Palermo was asked to pay protection money for his citrus farms.

Italian Families

There are three major Italian families that make up the Sicilian Mafia: the Camorra, the ‘Ndrangheta, and the Cosa Nostra. The Camorra started as a secret society of sorts that partook in various criminal activities expanding to extortion and murder.

Spread to various countries including Germany and Bulgaria, the ‘Ndrangheta is one of the most deadly criminal organizations globally. The third family is the Cosa Nostra. The literal meaning in Italian is “our thing” meant to give members a sense of ownership, loyalty, and belonging.

Cosa Nostra

In La Cosa Nostra, there is a significant hierarchy. There is the main boss or Don who leads the entire organization and makes the major decisions. Then comes the consigliere who acts almost as an advisor and confidant to the boss. The underboss is present as the second-in-command and in most cases is related to the Don through blood ties.

Following the underboss is the Capo, who leads the smaller crews of soldiers and is in charge of the on-ground situation. The soldiers under the capo are low-level members of the organization and are often seen as valuable but expendable should the situation call for it. This accommodates the lieutenants and crew.

The condition for membership is simple: to be Italian. Nationality matters only in the case of true membership because people from several ethnicities and nations are otherwise involved with this family. The Cosa Nostra is a transnational threat and also plays a big role in America as well, with its greatest hubs existing in Boston, New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Miami.

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Valachi Papers

Before the 1960s, the mafia was a rumor, almost a bedtime story to scare children and law enforcement alike. There was never enough information, evidence, or witnesses to confirm the existence of a mafia, much less to decode the workings of the entire organization. Then came a breakthrough that changed the world of organized crime forever.

On 22nd June 1962, Joseph M. Valachi received a ‘kiss of death’ from his cellmate Genovese Vito and was left to run amok with paranoia. He was a ‘getaway driver and enforcer’ for the Cosa Nostra. A kiss of death was pressed upon his brow due to the suspicions of him having turned into an informant after being incarcerated in the US penitentiary in Atlanta. It marked him as an inevitable target for the Cosa Nostra.

Having survived more than one attempted murder, Valachi was on edge and paranoid, seeing danger in every corner till one day he snapped. He mistook another prisoner for Joe Beck Di Palermo (a member of the Lucchese family) and whacked him on the head and ribs with a long metal pipe. The man died, but the spotlight was officially on Valachi and the American authorities decided to capitalize on his fears and offered him protection in return for information on the inner workings of the Sicilian Mafia. He was reluctant but eventually caved.

The ride from there on still wasn’t smooth and even included a suicide attempt by Valachi but soon enough he had given enough information for the “Valachi Papers” to be published. Although there were significant attempts to stop the publication, it went through and decoded a major chunk of the mystery. Valachi managed to name five major bosses of the Cosa Nostra which included Vito Genovese, Joe Bananas, Carl Gambino, Joseph Profaci, and Thomas Lucchese. All of them had their fingers in major businesses and trade.

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Recent Arrests

The recent arrest of Mateo Messina Denaro has been splashed all over the internet. He had been on Italy’s wanted list for decades. The man is a boss of the Cosa Nostra family and has been on the run for approximately 3 decades. He has been convicted of various murders including those of Giuseppe Di Matteo, Giovanni Falcone, Paolo Borsalino, and more. Denaro also has convictions of being party to various bomb attacks that happen in Rome, Milan, and Florence. The 60-year-old mobster was decked in luxurious clothes and accessories during the time of his arrest. He was taken into custody at a medical clinic from where he went with the police without any resistance.

Global Response

In November 2000, the United Nations General Assembly introduced the “United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols Thereto.” The convention has 190 parties to it, and it was signed in the very city of Italy from where the first complaint of mafia protection money arose, Palermo, Italy.

It talks about a united response from states and national security institutions alike to target crime families and the corruption they are feeding. It also presented two protocols in regard to human trafficking and the smuggling of women and children while placing a special focus on the production and sales of illegal firearms.

Europol put out its own action plan to combat the Sicilian mafia and the threats it posed by establishing a committee on organized crime, corruption, and money laundering. Organized crime is a plague on modern societies and states. It has only been exacerbated by the spread of transcontinental trade and globalization. Therefore, to combat it we need a united front by nations and institutions alike.

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